A Thanksgiving Message from Mr. B
A 30% return is quite impressive. Who wouldn't take that investment if it only required a small change in one's life? A couple of years ago, our family made such a change. My wife, Erin, took courses through the University of Pennsylvania and The Flourishing Center in New York. During her research, an interesting statistic popped out. Expressing gratitude daily increases a person's well-being by 30%. That seemed crazy. How would it work? What exactly would one need to do to reap the benefits? What exactly is "gratitude?" We decided as a family to give it a try; what could we lose?
We are lucky to eat dinner together as a family most nights, and we have a family tradition to bless the food. We decided that following the blessing, every family member would go around and explicitly say what he or she was "thankful for." I don't want to give any false impressions here. Most evenings, the kids pick something mundane or easy to be thankful for. They scan the kitchen for an idea and race each other to be the first to share the easy ones. These include, "I am grateful for Ida and Frodo (our dogs)" or a barely audible "mom's spaghetti" as my son shovels a full bite into his mouth and speaks with his mouth full (note to self: we also need to work on manners) or "my friends" or "mom and dad." As anyone who has teenagers knows, a response beyond a one-word answer is a win for any parent starving for information. Cynicism aside, Erin and I decided to stick with the "gratitude talk." Two years later, it has become a family tradition.
Every once in a while, we get a nugget, and surprisingly, during COVID, those nuggets are coming pretty frequently. Instead of the muffled "thank you for making pasta," we recently heard, "I really appreciate the fact that we have dinner together every night as a family. I know how hard you worked to cook this meal, and I have enjoyed all of this family time together during COVID." Silence followed that one — and the next sound heard was Erin's jaw hitting the kitchen table. Here are a few more. Instead of "I am grateful for Ida and Frodo," our youngest acknowledged, "After a difficult day at school, I love that I can go upstairs to my bedroom and hug Ida for 30 minutes. She listens and doesn't say anything back at all; she just listens. We are so lucky to have our dogs." Another shared, "I am really grateful for Latin's Cheer Team and the girls on the team. I was worried about moving schools during my junior year and making friends. The girls on the team are awesome. It's not cliquey at all, and everyone really looks out for each other and is so encouraging."
Science says that the real advantage is in the details. The more specific you are about your gratitude, the bigger impact it has. While those moments don't happen often, when they do, it's beautiful to experience. When your child acknowledges how lucky she is and how grateful he is, it puts everything into perspective.
This fall, Erin and I noticed a definite shift in our family gratitude talks. The mundane, frequently taken for granted aspects of school and life at Latin, come up often. "I am so grateful we have the opportunity to have class in person. I can't believe I am saying this, but I am grateful for school." Another one mentioned was, "I am grateful my teacher met me before school today to go over my quiz. They didn't need to do that." or "COVID is stressful on students, but you can tell how stressful this is for faculty. They have to teach us in class and the students at home. It is crazy how difficult it is to go back and forth between the two. They are really making a difference."
November always makes me think about gratitude, with the month culminating in Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), when we spend time with family, eat great food, and live in the moment. Gratitude comes from reflection, and as I reflect on 2020, it's been a year of great disruption and hardship. COVID has not just inconvenienced our lives; it has brought sickness and death, stress and anxiety, disconnection, and isolation — the list could go on and on. But 2020 also highlighted and prioritized what is important — truly important — in life. This year, more than any other in my career has shown me what a community can accomplish together that it could never approach if we worked as individuals. While I certainly receive phone calls where a parent or faculty member can only see what is in it for their child or how it affects them as an individual, every day, every week, every month I hear from parents, faculty, volunteers, students, alumni — members of the Latin community — who sacrifice their individual wants and desires for that of the greater good. Paradoxically, and altruistically, something amazing happens as a result of that sacrifice, collectively we receive far more from Latin than if we each got what we wanted. I see it when volunteers give their free time to monitor lunch and conduct temperature screenings. I see it in the generosity of our community as their donations to the Latin Fund offset the incredible costs incurred during COVID. I see it in the grace given by parents, faculty, and students to each other.
Quite simply put, I am grateful for Charlotte Latin School. While the research says the return on well-being should be 30%, I want to acknowledge the return has been far greater and more substantial than any data point can capture.
P.S. If you are interested more in the power of gratitude, here are some wonderful resources.
- Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier from Harvard Health Publishing
- The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How it Affects Anxiety & Grief from PositivePsychology.com
- How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain from The Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley